Say “Beetlejuice” three times, and you summon the man himself.
But in East Corinth, where production on the movie Beetlejuice 2 has begun, locals are hesitant to say the word, bound to secrecy by non-disclosure agreements.
“It all kind of happens quietly,” Rick Cawley, chair of the Corinth selectboard, said of the film. “I’ve only heard about it on a need-to-know basis.”
In the late ’80s, a film crew descended on East Corinth to shoot the original Beetlejuice. The resulting cult classic depicted Barbara and Allen Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin), who die in a car crash and are left to inhabit their home as ghosts. The Deetz family — including Lydia, a goth teen played by Winona Ryder — buys the home, and the Maitlands attempt to haunt them out of the property. Along the way, the ghostly husband and wife solicit the not-so-helpful help of Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), ultimately finding peace with their erstwhile enemies the Deetzes.
Exterior shots in the movie were filmed in the rural Orange County town of about 1,500 residents. A now-shuttered general store, a white Masonic lodge, and a prop covered bridge all featured in the Tim Burton gothic comedy.
The sequel will feature original cast members Ryder, Keaton and Catherine O’Hara, as well as new additions Justin Theroux, Jenna Ortega and Willem Defoe. Burton will again direct. Primarily filmed in England, the production will shoot in Corinth later this summer, according to Cawley.
On foot, this reporter trekked through the hills of Corinth, hunting for details about the new movie. But locals, roped into the production themselves, stayed mum. (A publicist for Warner Brothers declined to comment.)
After a few knocks on the locked door of the East Corinth Congregational Church, a space the production has been using for storage, the Rev. KellyAnn Donahue poked her head out. She said she couldn’t talk about the film.
Some residents quietly pointed to the community-supported ski hill Northeast Slopes, suggesting a volunteer there may have some involvement in the new production. The barn-red covered bridge, built for the first Beetlejuice, even found a home at the ski area, where it houses part of the hill’s T-bar. But the volunteer, muzzled by a legal “pinky swear,” politely declined to talk.
No amount of shoe-leather reporting in 90-degree weather seemed enough to overcome the Hollywood gag order. Atop a green hillside on the way into town, the production team this week toiled away under the boiling sun, erecting what appeared to be a house — the house, in fact, of Beetlejuice fame. But “no trespassing” signs blocked the way up the hill, past the crew’s shiny cars with Massachusetts plates.
Remnants of the original Beetlejuice reveal themselves in East Corinth, even if answers to a reporter’s inquiries do not. A still from the film — a car bursting through the side of a covered bridge — is tacked to a stop sign on Chicken Farm Road. A poster outside Corinth’s white Masonic lodge, transformed in the movie to Miss Shannon’s School for Girls, shows another frame.
Beetlejuice tourists descend on Corinth from as far away as California to see the sights, according to Jennifer Spanier, library director at the town’s Blake Memorial Library. Superfans find their way into the library, looking for more lore.
“I’ll be like, ‘I bet they’re a Beetlejuice person,’ because maybe they’re dressed a little goth, or they just look like they aren’t from here,” Spanier said.
She, too, has been sworn to secrecy due to peripheral involvement in the sequel.
“It’s called ‘Operation Blue Hawaii’ or something like that,” Spanier said of the production’s covert dealings. “It’s a code name.”
Finally, after all that marching up and down East Corinth’s humble main street, the story seemed destined to break open: a truck, idling outside the library, with a director’s clapboard stenciled to the door. The crew!
This intrepid gumshoe sidled up to the driver’s side window, gesturing inquisitively at the man eating french fries inside. He lowered the window.
Sixteen years in the business, and the man had encountered few places as … quiet … as East Corinth.
“This is like no man’s land,” he said. He’d parked beside the library to get some Wi-Fi — cell signal being finicky at best. “There’s nothing to do around here. At all.”
The man, from Massachusetts, declined to provide his name, explaining that he’d signed an NDA, and his union contract prevented him from talking to the press. But under the cloak of anonymity, he spoke with candor — not about the film, but about the sleepy hamlet it had brought him to.
“Unfortunately, it’s Corinth. That’s how you say it, right?” he said, emphasizing the second syllable. “There’s only one store in town.”
Asked how he imagines the town will handle the hubbub when shooting finally begins, he chuckled.
“It’ll be a circus.”